Former Bishop Not Listed As "Credibly Accused," Despite Diocesan Board's Finding
By Larry Parnass
May 29, 2019
|Christopher J. Weldon|
When one of the longest-serving Western Massachusetts bishops was accused of child sexual abuse, a successor rose to his defense.
"I would hope that the names of good priests and bishops, who cannot defend themselves, are not being impugned for ulterior motives," the Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell said of Christopher J. Weldon, the former bishop, said in a 2005 statement about a civil lawsuit.
"Nothing in our records ... in any way would provide support for these allegations," McDonnell said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Weldon's name did not appear on the diocese's online list of "credibly accused clergy" — eight months after officials with the Springfield diocese came to a different conclusion about Weldon.
Last September, the Diocesan Review Board notified the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski that it found a Chicopee man's story of his molestation by Weldon, more than half a century before, "compelling and credible."
"We want to express our sincere sorrow for the pain and suffering you have endured," the board wrote to the man, according to a letter obtained by The Eagle.
In addition to abuse by Weldon, the man told the board of molestation by two priests, the Rev. Edward Authier and the Rev. Clarence Forand.
"As we explained to you, the Board has no other authority except to notify the Bishop that we find your allegations credible," the letter says.
The newspaper is withholding the man's identity due to his wish to remain private.
As of Wednesday, the diocese also was not listing Authier as among "credibly accused" clergy. Forand's name, though, is included under the category of "clergy who died after having been placed under the sanctions of the Essential Norms," a reference to official Catholic Church policy on responding to abuse allegations.
That policy holds that "when even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from the ecclesiastical ministry."
A request for comment from the Springfield Diocese is pending.
Before reaching its finding that the Chicopee man's allegations are credible, the review board considered a report by investigator Kevin Murphy and received a briefing from Patricia Martin, a clinical psychologist. The letter to the Chicopee man recapping the review board's work was signed by John Hale, its chairman.
After not hearing from the diocese for months, following receipt of the board's September letter, the Chicopee man contacted Olan Horne, a clergy sexual abuse survivor and advocate for victims. Horne said the man asked him to try to obtain "closure" on the abuse as well as support from the diocese.
Horne said he also has been contacted by another person alleging abuse by Weldon.
In an email to Rozanski, Horne pressed for the diocese to meet with the man. In response, the diocese indicated that a session with the bishop might be possible, according to email messages reviewed by The Eagle. Horne plans to attend a future meeting as a "silent witness" to lend support.
"As a survivor, every day we are left without any information is painful and keeps closure from happening," Horne wrote of the individual who made the report about Weldon, Authier and Forand. "A year in a 67-year-old man's life is a long time."
Horne told The Eagle the man was willing to have details of this case made public, short of his name. He said Wednesday he views the diocese's delays as unacceptable. "It's how they deal with everything. This is really about keeping the pressure on. We're committed to this."
In his email to Rozanski, Horne questioned the delay in adding Weldon's name, along with that of Authier, to the list of credibly accused clergy. Over the winter, the diocese held public sessions around the region, including in Pittsfield, to address clergy abuse and showcase its wish to be transparent about the problem.
Mark Dupont, the diocesan spokesman, said in January that the bishop called for the community meetings to "make an opportunity available throughout the diocese to hear concerns and answer questions," in the wake of continuing news reports of clergy abuse, including findings by a two-year grand jury probe in Pennsylvania that found widespread abuse of children in six dioceses in that state involving a systematic cover-up by church officials.
At one of those meetings in Western Massachusetts, the Chicopee man told his story. Horne said Rozanski was present that evening and listened to the man's account.
"Even after the victim publicly asked him for answers at a recent listening session, the Bishop sat silent as board members addressed and apologized to him," Horne said. "It is heart wrenching, I was present."
In a May 20 message to a variety of diocesan officials, Horne called for action on the case, saying the man wants resolution. "He has been more than patient and understanding. He has contacted me as he feels that he is and has been stonewalled by the diocese now for over four years without any resolution, and only received insincere repeated apologies," Horne wrote.
As he has in past cases for which he has acted as a victim's advocate, Horne is urging Rozanski to be more open.
"Transparency and credibility is not only necessary it is part of the Church's commitment. It is unacceptable behavior to alienate the truth of what happened here," Horne wrote.
"This information and other claims have been levied against Weldon and deemed credible a year ago," he wrote. "The process of transparency is paramount and we all agreed to this process as part of rebuilding trust, transparency and accountability."
Weldon isn't the first Springfield bishop to be accused of abuse.
In 2004, Bishop L. Thomas Dupre resigned after being accused of sexually abusing two boys three decades earlier. He had served as bishop in Springfield since 1995.
Dupre died in 2016 and is listed on the diocese's website under the heading, "Deceased bishop who was permanently removed from public ministry."
Weldon, who was ordained in 1929, served as bishop in Springfield from 1950 to 1977. He died in 1982.
The New York City native had aided the work of the Pioneer Valley United Way and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1976, where he served as a trustee for 14 years, according to his obituary in The New York Times.
Questions were raised about Weldon's service as bishop in a 2018 book, "Death of an Altar Boy," by E.J. Fleming. The book examines the unsolved, 1972 killing of Danny Croteau. Fleming suggests that Weldon might have used political connections and links to Matthew J. Ryan, the Hampden County district attorney, to obstruct an investigation into the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne's possible involvement in the crime.
Scant information is available about Authier. Stories from the 1950s in The Berkshire Eagle and North Adams Transcript say that a priest by that name had led workshops for young Catholic couples, advising them on "the Christian ideal of marriage and how to prepare for it."
One of the presentations ended with participants receiving a certificate from Weldon, the bishop.
Larry Parnass can be reached at email@example.com at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.